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We had such a great crowd at this Tuesday’s Get Growing! class, the second in the three-part series covering all aspects of organic gardening. Y’all were from all levels of gardening experience, which makes for a really engaging conversation with so many voices!

Ruth focused this week on seed starting and soil amendments, but both of those are such broad topics, they definitely could have had their own two-hour classes! She talked about starting your own seeds vs purchasing seedlings to transplant. It seemed to come down to cost and convenience: it is more cost effective to purchase seeds–for instance, you can buy a packet of 200 quality parsley seeds for about $3.50, or you can buy six ready-to-transplant parsley seedlings for about the same price. So why buy seedlings when it’s so much more economical to buy seeds? Because starting seeds requires infrastructure, planning, and time. Many seedlings that can be transplanted now needed to be started five to seven weeks ago, when, I don’t know about y’all, but I had about three inches of snow on the ground! You need soil and a good bit of vigilance, not to mention indoor grow lights. I personally am dreaming of a 10′ x 20′ hoophouse. Dreaming being the operative word.

Once the soil warms, Ruth explained, some plants really prefer to be direct seeded–meaning, planting the seeds directly into the prepared ground. These plants don’t like having their roots disturbed:

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Melons
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • and many more!

Ruth went on to give us a primer on seed-starting, which, remember, is more economical but requires more steps. She recommended bottom soaking your trays of soil in a mix of 1 gallon of water + 2 tbsps her favorite kelp fertilizer by pouring some of this mix into a wide, shallow tray and resting your seedling tray in the mix for about five minutes. Ruth really could not say enough good things about kelp fertilizer–she says it even makes your seedlings more frost tolerant, which, at this pretty precarious time of year, is quite an endorsement!

We talked then about compost and how to get your mix just right. Ruth says you need to have a 25:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Things that add carbon are woody, stalky, and dry while things that add nitrogen are wet and green, like food scraps. Ruth recommended that, come fall, you go through your neighborhood and offer to take some of those bags of leaves off your neighbors’ hands. “Hello? Free!” Ruth pointed out.

Ruth highly recommends vermicompost–compost that has been processed by worms–either by finding a good source near you or by starting your own worm compost bin:

Once it goes through the worms’ guts, some kind of magic happens, and it comes out the other end amazing!

She treats this stuff like solid gold, using it very specifically for individual plants. Starting your own vermicompost bin is very easy according to Ruth, although it does require maintenance: feeding, making sure it’s not too dry or too wet, sheltering it in the winter.

☆☆☆Protip: take your food scraps that you’re about to put in your worm bin and run them through the food processor! Remember, worms have no teeth, so the more you can chew it up before you give it to them, the faster they’ll turn it into magic.

A highlight from the evening, though, had to be when Ruth was talking about the importance of picking the right spot for the right plants. Many plants are quite particular about being sheltered from the wind or which face of a slope they are on. Ruth shared a great story about a fig tree she had growing up: according to some, figs like to hear people talking, and when a family fig tree was moved from a more remote location to the backyard–where it could hear plenty of conversation–it just burst into life! While I don’t know if your fig needs you to talk to it or not, it just goes to show that if something isn’t doing so well where it is right now, do a little research and try another spot! Your yard is full of microclimates, so take a day to watch them!

Again, there was so much more covered in just those two hours! Check out the handout from Class TWO for more details and, of course, consider joining us at next week’s class, Tuesday, April 15th, from 7-9pm at Jubilee! Community Church!

See you then!

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Jenn Cloke

Author: Jenn Cloke

Jenn Cloke, originally from Atlanta, has lived in Western North Carolina for since 2006 and wears her Appalachian mantle proudly. Jenn was the Communications Coordinator for Organic Growers School from 2012 to 2014. She and her family run a small farm at the foot of Cold Mountain.

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